Monday, July 28, 2008

Kawasaki Frontale v Nagoya Grampus

J.League Division 1: Sat, 26th July 2008

Kawasaki Frontale 1 - 1 Nagoya Grampus

Venue: Todoroki Stadium
Attendance: 21,952

A cracking display of football at Todoroki on Saturday night, with both teams justifying their status as serious title contenders. Frontale again came back from a goal down and, although both sides had chances to win it, a draw was probably the right result.

Magnum marked his first return to Todoroki, since transferring to Nagoya in the winter, with a stunning shot to give the visitors an early lead. Not only did this come against the run of play, but it was also largely brought about by an untimely recurrence of Shuhei Terada's hamstring injury.

Terada, who was starting his first game after over a month on the physio's couch, looked a safe bet to clear a long ball that was flicked on by Keiji Tamada in the middle of the field. However, the stalwart defender was obviously in trouble as he not only lost a mile of ground, but also failed to make any attempt at a block as Magnum raced on to the ball and struck a fierce drive into the back of the net from 20 yards.

The Brazilian's goal celebration was respectfully subdued, as Terada had to be helped from the pitch, clearly in some distress. It is still unclear how serious the big veteran's injury is, but let's just hope it's nothing career-threatening.

The game now settled into a pattern with Frontale controlling much of the play and Nagoya breaking dangerously on the counter. The rest of the first half saw the away team defending their lead staunchly and soaking up a great deal of pressure. Still, they almost doubled their lead when Johnsen's stinging shot rifled against the foot of the post and away to safety.

In the second half Frontale began to dominate possession far more effectively. They were finding more dangerous positions in attack and giving away much less in defence. Their first real opening came when Vitor Junior found room in the box and saw his lobbed shot-cum-cross rebound off the inside of the far post, past the waiting Juninho and eventually away by a relieved defender.

Nagoya were now starting to rock and the Todoroki crowd, continuing to earn their reputation as "12th player", piled on the pressure by raising the volume a few decibels. Within minutes Vitor Junior had levelled things up, pouncing on a blocked shot from Chong Tese and firing into an untended net.

At this stage, it looked like the game could only go one way, and Seigo Narazaki was forced to be at his very best in the Nagoya goal to keep out a couple of fine efforts from Juninho. However, once things were back on an even footing Nagoya, obviously not content to play for the draw, began to show that they're not just a counter-attacking outfit.

With the visitors now at their most attacking, Frontale did well to keep them at bay. The biggest scare came late on when Eiji Kawashima failed to claim a cross and only a last-ditch, goal-line block from Tomonobu Yokoyama, who was outstanding all game (after coming on for the ill-starred Terada), prevented the visitors from stealing all 3 points.

Overall, this is the best Kawasaki Frontale have been playing all season. Defensively the team is far less error-prone, Juninho seems a lot more confident as a provider rather than just an out-an-out goal scorer, and Vitor Junior (although this might be a bit premature) is an absolute revelation. Here's hoping they can maintain this kind of form when they return to action in a couple of weeks.



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